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“What can the Lord give to those who already have a heart full of themselves, of their own success? Nothing, because a proud person cannot receive forgiveness, being full of his supposed righteousness,” said Pope Francis as he continued today his series of catecheses explaining the meaning of the Holy Mass.
The penitential rite was the theme of the first general audience of the new year.
During the Penitential Act, part of the Introductory Rites of the Mass, “the priest invites us to recognize our sins, observing a moment of silence. Each of us enters his or her interior to take cognizance of everything that isn’t in agreement with God’s plan.”
“This is why,” the pope explained, “we confess our sinfulness in first person singular, saying, ‘I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.”
The pontiff explained that this formula “is accompanied by the gesture of striking your breast to indicate that the sin is yours and no one else’s.”
“The words we say with our mouth are accompanied by the gesture of striking our breasts, recognizing that I have sinned through my own fault, and not because of anyone else. It often happens that, because of fear or shame, we point our finger to accuse others. It’s difficult to admit we are guilty, but it is good to confess it sincerely.”
Speaking in his own style, with no papers in his hand, the pope told a story to illustrate how the gesture of striking one’s breast should be a heartfelt act of repentance. He described a woman who, in the confessional, listed off the sins of her husband, her mother-in-law, and her neighbors—but who didn’t confess her own sins. Eventually, the priest said to her, “Excuse me, ma’am, but tell me: are you done? Great; you’re done with other people’s sins. Now, begin to tell me yours.”
“It’s not enough not to harm our neighbor.”
Regarding the sin of omission, the pope also explained that Christians must not neglect the good they could do. “We often feel like good people because, we say, ‘I haven’t harmed anyone.’ In reality, it’s not enough not to harm our neighbor; we need to choose to do good, taking opportunities to bear good testimony to being disciples of Jesus,” he added.
“Sin severs our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters, our relationships in our family, society, and community,” the pope declared to the crowd gathered in Paul VI Hall.
Recognizing our own sins during Mass “concludes with absolution from the priest, in which God is asked to pour out his mercy on us.”
Nonetheless, the pope explained that “this absolution doesn’t have the same value as that of the Sacrament of Penance,” which is when we go to confess our sins directly to a priest.
This is because “there are grave sins, called mortal sins, which can only be forgiven in the sacrament of confession.”
Lastly, the Bishop of Rome greeted the pilgrims at the audience. At the beginning of this new year, he expressed his desire that it be a “time of peace, and that you may contemplate the Lord’s embrace of love and tenderness in your lives” and “draw near in prayer to the Prince of Peace who has come to dwell among us.”
The pope invited the faithful to seek interior renewal, “following the example of so many personalities of Sacred Scripture, such as King David, Saint Peter, and the Samaritan woman. Despite having offended God, they were able to ask His forgiveness with humility and sincerity, and they were able to experience His mercy, which transforms and gives true happiness.”
At the beginning of the audience, the pope referred to the parable of the pharisee and the publican, in which only the latter returns home “justified,” that is to say, forgiven (Luke 18:9-14). “Those who are aware of their own failings and lower their eyes with humility, feel the merciful gaze of God resting on them,” he said.
“We know from experience that only those who know how to recognize their own mistakes and ask forgiveness will receive other people’s understanding and forgiveness,” he said.
The audience ended with the prayer of the Our Father in Latin and the apostolic blessing, directed especially to children, the sick, and those who are suffering.
Read more of the pope’s reflections on the Mass: